I tried putting on a brave face. I knew it wouldn’t help her a titch if I let the real feelings pop to the surface.
So I focused on the positives: that by moving to another city far away, my friend would become a blessing to others. It’s true, of course. She will. But I also know uprooting your family to another part of the country after settling in and finding your church, school, and a nurturing city is no small thing.
It’s part of our very mobile society, however. It happens all the time.
Someone is offered a great job and after a time of hemming and hawing, the decision is made to go. And at some point, there’s no turning back.
Frequent though it may be, I wonder if we properly acknowledge as a society the loss involved, not only for the mover but for those left behind. In fact, I would say in some cases it’s harder on those left in the wake.
I’ve never relished goodbyes and when we moved out West in our first year of marriage, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to tell all of my friends we were going. I’ll never forget the shocked reaction of one who found out after we’d departed.
I realized then I’d probably refrained from a big announcement in part to protect myself from uncomfortable goodbyes. Clearly, I saw in hindsight, that had been a selfish decision. I’d denied some of my friends a chance to experience the stages of letting go I’d already quietly experienced.
Now, I’m on the other side of it, and I can say this friend has been generous in the sharing. She’s brought our circle of faith-sharing women into each step of the process and we’ve circled around her and tried to lend our supportive hearts and minds to make her uprooting a little less painful.
But in all of that I’d not let myself consider that this is a real loss for us.
It’s important to share that the friend who is moving a couple months from now is a vibrant person, the epitome of hyperbole. Along with being a true thespian, she’s a mother and wife, a teacher, a skilled vocalist and flutist, a dancer and a church decorator.
She began coming to our circle of faith-sharing sisters when her oldest of two children, now in middle school, was a baby. There, she poured out her life’s hopes, dreams and fears as we did in turn. Though we didn’t do tons of socializing together outside our group, we’ve definitely come to know each others’ souls from the inside-out during these years together.
So last week, as we joined forces in song-leading at a regular weekly school Mass — I managing melody and she handling harmony — it hit me. She’s leaving and this kind of thing isn’t going to happen again. Come May, the harmonies will cease. The strength I feel from her leadership and musicianship in this instance, and the ardent yearning to know God I witness from her at our group, will be no longer.
The passionate responses and dramatic conclusions we’ve come to expect from this friend in our faith-sharing group will dissipate. There will be not just a tiny void but a glaring chasm.
After receiving the Eucharist that day, I went back to my chair and realized I couldn’t completely hold back the tears, though I remained discreet and composed through the final song. I can act too, after all.
But as we were putting away stands and music at the Mass’s conclusion, I felt a prompting to tell her what had just happened. Even though I knew it might set her off course a bit, I wanted her to know now — not two months from now — that she’d mattered.
“I’m grieving you,” I said, and within a few moments we were in a heartfelt embrace that I’m sure made those still lingering in the sanctuary wonder. It called to mind another grieving friend-hug I had in a swimming pool years ago when we learned a friend was leaving, not just to another town but our world due to a prolonged illness.
Sometimes, you just have to stop and acknowledge your grief — in fact, to name it in the first place. Whether someone is leaving the earth or moving a few states away, the loss is real.
Granted, my friend isn’t dying, but preparing for her to fade into the horizon is like a mini-death. And it deserves a little space — even if just an unplanned, unrehearsed moment of embrace among two friends.
Some in our faith-sharing group went to see our friend perform in her last public drama here the same night of the tearful Mass. In the “Forbidden Broadway” performance, she carried out a rousing rendition of both Carol Channing and Liza Minnelli. It was the perfect way for her to end her theatrical career here. We laughed our way through it, celebrating but knowing, too, that the goodbye has begun.
Now that I’ve gotten my tears out of the way, I think I can go back to doing what needs doing to help send my friend on her way. This is life, after all, always a welcoming, always a letting go. Not always easy, but always possible.
Q4U: What have you learned about grieving to prepare you for the next round?